Joshua Tree is one of our absolute fave places to go when it comes to a quick staycation. It’s close to Los Angeles (the closest National Park to us actually) and there’s a ton to do while you’re there. I always feel like a kid when I first land within its alien-like exterior. The landscape stretches out for miles, with thousands of rocks at hand, to climb whenever the mood strikes. And due to its unique desert terrain, the photographic opportunities are always abundant. No tv, no phone, no internet. Just good ol’ conversation, stargazing, photography, hiking, and our imaginations.
Why a Joshua Tree Staycation?…
Loads of Campsites and Interesting People
Joshua Tree offers up an abundance of camping nooks. Over 300 campsites are offered year round. However, they still fill up quick so you’ll always need to make a reservation ahead of time. Due to the park’s popularity, it’s not a bad idea to get an annual pass. It does cost more ($25.00 per car vs. $80.00) but The Interagency Annual Pass ends up getting you into all of the National Parks for free for the next twelve months. If you’re a camper, backpacker, hiker, or climber, this is well worth the extra cost. There is also an annual pass that can be purchased, strictly for use at Joshua Tree, for $40.00 as well.
Due to the amount of campsites, you can always count on numerous campers, from all over. I love this about J. Tree. There are often so many interesting artists, rock climbers, musicians, and even animals. There’s never a dull moment. Once we arrive to J. Tree, we unload, set up tent, cooking supplies, wood, play some music, cook and then… we wander. We’ve met an eclectic array of travelers this way, from all walks of life, simply by wandering around our campsite and introducing ourselves. It’s a great place to swap stories and observe other adventure seekers. That being said, try not to arrive when they do, like at noon on a Saturday for example. Oh and if you happen to have that annual pass we recommended, sometimes they let you cut the line.
Joshua Tree is one of the best (and darkest) areas for stargazing, especially if you go during New Moon, which I highly recommend for photographers. Peak months for stargazing are in the summer, when the sun is on the opposite side and the milky way is in full effect. During April/May the pre-dawn hours are best. June/August the best time is midnight. Mid-August/September, best time is after the sun has set.
Though the winter is not the best time for the Milky Way, it’s still an excellent time for stars. It’s cold but it’s also the shortest day, which then means longer nights! Longer nights mean, more stars! Sunset can be as early as 4:30 with night occurring at 5:00. Because J. Tree is located 3000-5000 feet above sea level and far away from any major light pollution, it is one of the best spots to view the stars, not only in the state of California but within the entire Country. Keep in mind that the east side of the park is usually best for stargazing. It is the furthest from any bordering city since the closest major city, looking East, is Phoenix. If you’d like to shoot the stars, simply set your camera up, open up that shutter, and let the stars dance before your very lenses. Perhaps bring along your favorite Scotch, to sip on while you shoot.
Due to the whimsical nature that makes up this desert landscape, many artists have opened up galleries here. Painters, sculptors, photographers and contemporary artists such as Andrea Zittel, Susan Abbott, Jason Rhoades, Marcia Geiger, Sandra Goodin, and Jack Pierson, to name a few. According to the NY Times-“artists, architects, and musicians in search of lower mortgage payments and wide open space have been trickling out and setting up studios in old ranch houses, shipping containers and geodesic domes left over from the 1970’s.”
Ms. Zittel’s “High Desert Test Sites,” an annual art festival, is a great example of how to experience J. Tree’s art scene. Ms. Zittel is a contemporary artist who has been a major influence in bringing artists over to J. Tree. She expanded her studio from Brooklyn six years ago and often invites artists to be a part of the “High Desert Test Sites” experience. The High Desert experience not only includes large conceptual installments but also often includes scavenger hunts that embrace the local cafes, restaurants, and watering holes. Desert X biennial, is another prime example of big, bold, and interactive contemporary art. This year, the gallery will be opening February 25 and continue through to April. Desert X involves more than 15 installations across the Coachella Valley, from the San Bernardino Mountains to the Salton Sea.
In addition to the contemporary art, J. Tree is also a popular destination for musicians. The Spring Annual Joshua Tree Music Festival being one of the more popular venues. Recently, David Grohl’s HBO special “Sonic Highways” featured an episode in Joshua Tree, focusing on an old historic recording studio that has welcomed in many musicians over the years, due to its acoustic ambiance. All in all, there are a ton of festivals, shows, galleries, and performances to be had in Joshua Tree, something for everyone and we highly recommend you check it all out. In fact, if you live in the Los Angeles, Ventura, or San Diego Counties and are in need a quick staycation getaway, Joshua Tree is an absolute must.